Feb 24, 2009

The Screwtape Letters

by C.S. Lewis

I read Lewis' Narnia books over and over when I was young. It was years before I realized the stories were based on Christian theology, and I didn't read any of his nonfiction works until I was in college. This was the first one I opened. The Screwtape Letters is a collection of imagined epistles that a senior devil writes to his younger nephew, Wormwood. The letters include lots and lots of advice, but not from the usual perspective- in this case, Screwtape is coaching his nephew in the craft of tempting human souls into evil. Lewis has plenty to say about good and evil, flaws in human nature, and various moral issues. What makes it all so interesting is to examine this from such a backwards perspective, one that in encouraging evil, proposes to show the reader how to guard against it. There's also a sort of portrait of one ordinary man that Wormwood is focusing his efforts on. Through the young devil's appeals for advice and Screwtape's criticism of his technique, an vague picture is formed of this one man's life- how his soul alternately wavers and progresses in his journey through life. There really isn't much plot in this book, although I was surprised at how humorous it could be, and the two devils do develop a certain amount of character. I would say its main interest is in the theology, and the wry examination of human nature.

Rating: 3/5                       209 pages, 1942

More opinions at:
It's All About Books
Black Sheep Books
The Wardrobe
The Church of No People
Music of the Night(engale)


Trish said...

I didn't realize until recently that the Narnia books were based on Christian theology. I've been interested in his non-fiction, but for reason I've been a little intimidated.

Chris said...

I was pretty disappointed by this one. I think my hopes were too high for it. Just didn't grab me. I've read another of his non-fic books, The Four Loves, and really loved that one though!

Jeane said...

Trish- I don't think you should feel intimidated! Although I had to pause sometimes to really think about what Lewis was getting at, the books are fairly short, so it's not overwhelming.

Chris- I've never even heard of the Four Loves. The only other one I read was Mere Christianity, and I did like that one better than Screwtape Letters.

Jeanne said...

I love this book. The description of a glutton is one that I come back to, because he defines gluttony as wanting your food just so, not just as overeating.

I had to come visit because I keep seeing your name on other comment threads, and the spelling is so close to mine!

Jeane said...

Hi, Jeanne! I've noticed your name on the post comments, too. Welcome to my blog. I'll be sure to check yours out.

Laston Lastof said...

look guys... the popular opinion of uneducated humanistic readers is that Narnia is based on Christian Theology --
I have read a book of letters written by CS Lewis where he him self says this is not so --
indeed on the back of George MacDonald books the blurb from Lewis says "i have hardly written a word without quoting george macdonald."
and MacDonald is considered the father of fantasy literature --
so-- it is my humble opinion that those who see aslan as jesus etc etc etc .... are doing a great disfavor to the fact that CS lewis was a highly skilled medieval historian and if anything the Narnia Chronicles borrow heavily from that ---
so please stop looking at the world through glasses that come as complimentary auxiliary reading companions for fans of da vinci code and that sort or drivel

now if you are going to discuss if The Out a Silent Planet Trilogy is based on Cristian theology .... both your self and CS lewis would agree at the outset of that discussion
thank you

Laston Lastof said...

oops i spelled christian --incorrectly -
my bad

Jeane said...

That wasn't your only typo, Laston Lastof.

In my own reading experience, the only Narnia book that felt full of Christian undertones was The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe- what with Aslan interceding for Edmund, his resurrection, his role as a guide and protector of his followers, his position as a leader of the "good" whereas the White Witch was head of the "evil" creatures. If I'm missing some other parallels, maybe someone else can point them out. The rest of the books don't really stand out as having lots of religious ideas, unless you take the creation of Narnia, in The Magician's Nephew.

And for what it's worth, the George MacDonald books I've read (those about Curdie) were full of Christian themes- so if Lewis quoted MacDonald a lot, I'm not surprised. (Of course, I could be wrong in my interpretation of MacDonald's work, but that was my own impression when I read the books).

I've never read the Da Vinci Code, nor do I want to. I first read the Narnia books way back when I was about ten, years before Da Vinci Code was written. So my viewpoint certainly isn't "rose-colored" from that perspective.